Mentor Moment #4: When tempers flare, Ask yourself…”Is this the Hill you want to die on”?


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When winning the discussion is more important that the business outcome of what you are discussing it is time to ask yourself…”Is this the Hill you want to die on?”

I was a young VP of Sales and we were in heated senior management meeting and tempers were strained. Our CFO made a comment that was not only wrong but I found it insulting to me and my team and I began to fire back. The discussion escalated and our corporate consultant observing this behavior recommended we take a break. So as we left the meeting the consultant said “let’s go for a walk Mark and get some air.”

We walked outside and he said; “you know, I know, and I even think the CFO knows you are right Mark, but is this hill you want to die on?’” I never heard this phrase before and it gave me pause.At that moment I realized this discussion was more about me winning, about defending my team, my silo, my ego, and not about what added the most value to our companies’ bottom line. Was I wrong to defend my team under attacks from the CFO? No. Was it wrong for him to blame-storm the sales team when purchasing ( his silo)  had as big a contribution if not greater in the poor quarterly performance? Yes.But this was not the hill I wanted to die on. This discussion would be much better served one on one than with the entire senior team looking on.

So we returned to the meeting and the other department heads expected me to be my Prick -ly self and instead I apologized for losing my temper, and I asked the CFO if we could meet after the meeting to discuss his perception that the sale team’s matching competitive bids was the main cause of our poor quarterly financial performance. (When we both knew the dramatic rise in raw material costs played a bigger role)

Market leading teams discuss what matters. They focus on the problems and broken processes and not people. Market leading teams discuss roadblocks to the entire team’s success and do not attack or defend silos.

Should discussions escalate and feel like they are getting personal, you need to ask yourself; “is this a hill I am willing to die on?” This quick gut check will often stop those CAM’s (Career Altering Moves) when we feel attacked and tempers flare.

There are hills you may want to die on; those that involve the safety of team members, issues that may open the organization to litigation, behaviors of team members in violation of your corporate values and mission, and or being asked to do something that violates your personal values.

Remember, it’s about adding value to the bottom line of the organization, and not about you, your ego, or you winning. You can’t win as a team if you win and another team member looses.

What do you think?

What hills are you willing to die on? Not willing to die on?

Have you found yourself in a heated discussion that was more about protecting your kingdom and or ego, than it was about adding value to the business? What caused your discussion and how did it turn out?

Do you have other questions like; is this a hill you want to die on, that you use? What are they? 

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